AskDefine | Define ptarmigan

Dictionary Definition

ptarmigan n : large arctic and subarctic grouse with feathered feet and usually white winter plumage

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A small grouse, spelink Lagopus mutus or spelink Lagopus muta, found in subarctic tundra areas.



Derived terms

Extensive Definition

''This article deals with the European species named "Ptarmigan" known in North America as the Rock Ptarmigan. For the Willow Ptarmigan, see Willow Grouse; see also White-tailed Ptarmigan.
The Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta, is a medium-sized (31-35 cm or 12-14 inches) gamebird in the grouse family. It is known as Rock Ptarmigan, or colloquially Snow Chicken in North America, where it is the official bird for the territory of Nunavut, Canada. It is a widespread bird in the Arctic Cordillera.
It is a sedentary species, breeding across arctic and subarctic Eurasia and North America (including Greenland) on rocky mountainsides and tundra. There are isolated populations in the mountains of Scotland, the Pyrenees, the Alps, Bulgaria, the Urals, the Pamir Mountains, the Altay Mountains and Japan. During the last ice age, the species was far more widespread in continental Europe (Tomek & Bocheński 2005).
The Ptarmigan is seasonally camouflaged; its feathers moult from white in winter to brown in spring or summer. Breeding males have greyish upper parts with white wings and underparts. In winter, plumage becomes completely white except for the black tail. They can be distinguished from the winter Willow Grouse (Willow Ptarmigan in North America) by habitat - Rock Ptarmigan prefer higher elevations and more barren habitat; they are also smaller in size with a more delicate bill.
The male's "song" is a loud croaking.
Ptarmigan feed primarily on birch and willow buds and catkins when available. They will also take various seeds, leaves, flowers and berries of other plant species. Insects are also taken by the developing young.


In the mountains of Honshū, Japan, the Ptarmigan is called raichou (literally "thunder bird") and according to legend protects people and buildings from fire and thunder.

Sexual selection in males

The male rock ptarmigans comb has been the focus of studies regarding sexual selection.
Apart from the comb, male rock-ptarmigan has no other ornaments or displays that are typical for grouses in temperate regions. Studies on other grouses have shown that much variation in comb size and colour exist between the species , and that the combs are used in courtship display, and aggressive interactions between males . Many studies such as have shown that there is a strong correlation between the comb size and the level of testosterone in males, and one report from 1981 showed that the amount of testosterone is correlated to aggressiveness against other males.
Studies on a population of male Rock Ptarmigans in Scarpa Lake, conducted by Brodsky L.M. have shown that during the first year, mating success among males was influenced by comb size and condition, and bigamous males had larger combs than monogamous males. However, the correlation of size disappeared after the first year, but the correlation to comb condition remained. This is consistent with another study of the same population of L.mutus that showed that mating success overall, was correlated to comb condition. Exceptions though were first-time breeders where the size of the comb influenced mating success .



  • Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  • (2002): The grammatical gender of avian genera. Bull. B. O. C. 122(4): 257-282.
  • (2005): Weichselian and Holocene bird remains from Komarowa Cave, Central Poland. Acta zoologica cracoviensia 48A(1-2): 43-65. PDF fulltext


ptarmigan in Catalan: Perdiu blanca
ptarmigan in German: Alpenschneehuhn
ptarmigan in Spanish: Lagopus muta
ptarmigan in Esperanto: Monta lagopo
ptarmigan in French: Lagopède alpin
ptarmigan in Icelandic: Rjúpa
ptarmigan in Italian: Lagopus muta
ptarmigan in Lithuanian: Tundrinė žvyrė
ptarmigan in Hungarian: Alpesi hófajd
ptarmigan in Dutch: Alpensneeuwhoen
ptarmigan in Japanese: ライチョウ
ptarmigan in Norwegian: Fjellrype
ptarmigan in Norwegian Nynorsk: Fjellrype
ptarmigan in Polish: Pardwa górska
ptarmigan in Portuguese: Lagópode-branco
ptarmigan in Russian: Тундреная куропатка
ptarmigan in Northern Sami: Giron
ptarmigan in Slovenian: Belka
ptarmigan in Finnish: Kiiruna (lintu)
ptarmigan in Swedish: Fjällripa
ptarmigan in Chinese: 岩雷鸟
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1